Farewell to a Skeptic Pioneer
Gerald Alexander Larue, Senior (1916–2014)
by David K. Larue
From Pastor to Atheist Scholar and Ethical Humanist
One of the pioneers of the modern skeptical movement, Dr. Gerald Alexander Larue (June 20, 1916 — September 17, 2014) —emeritus professor of religion at the University of Southern California—died Wednesday, September 17th, from a stroke associated with a gastro-intestinal bleeding event. He was 98 years old and lived a long full and happy life to the end, just as he encouraged others to do through the joy of the humanistic worldview.
Dr. Laure received Bachelor of Art and Bachelor of Divinity degrees from the University of Edmonton in Canada where he began his career as a minister with the United Church of Canada; he served pastorates in Canada and the United States from 1945 to 1953. He later moved to California to pursue a Doctor of Theology degree at the Pacific School of Religion, in Berkeley. While in undergraduate and graduate school, professors cheerfully called him “Heretic Larue,” which turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. In 1958, he accepted a professorship at the University of Southern California in the School of Religion. His textbook Old Testament Life and Literature was widely distributed and benefited from his numerous archaeological studies in the Near East. His focus in religious studies was differentiating folk tales, myth and legend from fact that could be substantiated, especially using archaeological studies.
As part of the free thought movement, Larue published books on Sex in the Bible, The Supernatural, The Occult and the Bible, and other scholarly studies in which stories and perceptions from the Bible were compared to known fact. Because he constantly challenged the literal interpretation of the Bible, humanist groups became interested in his work. Here was a man, widely regarded as an atheist, who was a former practicing minister, an archaeologist and true Bible scholar! In return, Dr. Larue worked more closely with humanist groups, his books exploring concepts such as The Way of Ethical Humanism and The Way of Positive Humanism. Death with dignity became a subject of his research, which he summarized in his book Playing God: Fifty Religion’s Views on Your Right to Die. He was the founding president of the Hemlock Society (Death with Dignity) which was created by Derek Humphry.
One of Larue’s most popular adventures was as a co-conspirator to show the shoddy nature of Creationist “scientific research.” It came about when one of Dr. Larue’s friends, George Jammal, made an outrageous and poorly substantiated claim that he had found, intact, the real Noah’s Ark, from which he produced an actual piece of wood. This “discovery” was publicized nationally in a special on CBS without any vetting (Jammal used the pseudonym “Allis Bullshitten,” which was somehow missed by all concerned). A week later, Dr. Larue revealed the nature of the hoax to Time magazine, causing a large round of finger pointing (including at him).
Dr. Larue was also the co-founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Religion, which challenged other poorly substantiated religious miracles, such as pictures showing weeping Madonnas and sightings of the Virgin Mary. He was the author of more than 17 books. He received the Humanist of the year award from the American Humanist Association in 1989.
As a professor at USC, he received awards for his teaching, and was popular with the students. He also was presented with a Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award and the Leibovitz Award. After retiring from the School of Religion, he then taught another 25 years at the School of Gerontology, until retiring at age 90 in 2006, to concentrate on interacting with his granddaughter and two step-grandchildren.
Gerald and his grand-daughter, Susan
He had a devoted and loving family including sons Gerald Alexander Larue, Jr. (deceased), David Knight Larue, grandsons Gerald Alexander Larue 3rd (deceased), Gerald Alexander Larue 4th, and grand-daughter Susan Larue. His extended family includes daughter-in-laws Lisa Larue and Susan Rempel, step-grandchildren Catherine and Jordan Black, and former wives Lois Larue and Emily Perkins.
- Noah’s Ark conspiracy
- Co-Founder: Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Religion
- Humanist of the Year 1989
- First President, Hemlock Society (established by Derek Humphry)
- General biography
- YouTube Video
- Summary Thoughts
- Advising L.A. Times
- Online Articles